Donald Trump promised during the campaign to get tough on radical Islamic terror groups as well as force Iran to renegotiate terms on Barack Obama’s nuclear deal. The next executive orders from the president may address both pledges — and create more controversy. According to Reuters, Trump will designate the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), expanding current sanctions applied at the moment to only its Quds Force:
A designation of the entire IRGC as a terrorist group would potentially have much broader implications, including for the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the United States and other major world powers.
The nuclear deal, which has been harshly criticized by Republicans in Congress and Trump for giving Iran too much and not placing tight enough restrictions on the country, granted Iran relief from most Western sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Reuters reported last week that the IRGC designation is among the proposals being considered as part of an Iran policy review in the Trump administration. The objective would be to dissuade foreign investment in Iran’s economy, because of the IRGC’s involvement in major sectors including transportation and oil. In many cases, that involvement is hidden behind layers of opaque ownership.
At points during the campaign, Trump claimed that he would tear up the deal or push Iran into more concessions in keeping the current one. This looks like a third-way strategy. Our allies have made it clear that they’re not interested in revisiting the Iranian deal, and in any case Russia and China would be reluctant to get back on board a “snapback” sanctions regime even if the US had ironclad evidence of Iranian abrogation.
Instead, Trump seems to have settled on an encirclement of another sort. Last week, Trump added new sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile testing, sanctions which edged around the nuclear agreement and almost dared Iran to abandon it. Adding the IRGC to the State Department’s FTO list over the issue of terrorism rather than nuclear development allows Trump to skirt around the deal again, but carries a much bigger economic impact. The US could punish anyone doing business with the IRGC in any context by locking them out of our banking system, which could have major implications for some countries and corporate entities. However, it’s for precisely this reason that our allies and trading partners might balk at this designation, no matter how richly the IRGC deserves it for its activities in supporting terrorism.
Yesterday, the New York Times’ Peter Baker reported that Trump may issue an EO putting the Muslim Brotherhood on the FTO list too, while noting the effort regarding the IRGC as well:
A political and social organization with millions of followers, the Brotherhood officially renounced violence decades ago and won elections in Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Affiliated groups have joined the political systems in places like Tunisia and Turkey, and President Barack Obama long resisted pressure to declare it a terrorist organization.
But the Brotherhood calls for a society governed by Islamic law, and some of its former members and offshoots — most notably Hamas, the Palestinian group whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel — have been tied to attacks. Some advisers to Mr. Trump have viewed the Brotherhood for years as a radical faction secretly infiltrating the United States to promote Shariah law. They see the order as an opportunity to finally take action against it.
Officially designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would roil American relations in the Middle East. The leaders of some American allies — like Egypt, where the military forced the Brotherhood from power in 2013, and the United Arab Emirates — have pressed Mr. Trump to do so to quash internal enemies, but the group remains a pillar of society in parts of the region.
That would certainly be a major shift from Barack Obama’s Arab Spring embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama pressured Egypt into holding quick elections after Mubarak got deposed, despite the fact that the time was insufficient for secular and more moderate political parties to effectively organize. The military finally deposed the Morsi government after they tried to impose a stricter form of shari’a law, a coup which the Obama administration initially punished.
Baker reports that this designation has already gotten pushback from the State Department and NSC, however:
The Iran part of the plan has strong support within the White House, but momentum behind the Muslim Brotherhood proposal seems to have slowed in recent days amid objections from career officials at the State Department and the National Security Council, who argue that there is no legal basis for it and that it could alienate allies in the region. Former officials said that they had been told the order would be signed on Monday, but that it had now been put off at least until next week.
The good news is that the Trump White House has slowed the EO process quite a bit since the breakneck pace of the first fortnight, allowing for more voices and more consideration on these significant steps. Good ideas can wait for the best fine tuning, and both of these have value in dealing with hostile entities abroad. Better to take a little more time and ensure that they add to our security rather than rush them and have to repair damage later.
As the last word, read Andrew Malcolm’s McClatchy DC column on Trump, Iran, and red lines. Money quote:
Westerners have an expression for someone who talks a lot and does little. They say he’s all hat and no cattle. Trump has that familiar red baseball cap. To avoid earning the same international reputation as Obama, we’ll soon see whether the New Yorker has any cattle in his diplomatic herd.
So far it appears that Trump is trying to lay down the red line, but that its location might be a bit different than first proposed.